Monday, October 31, 2005

Podcasters - level out the sound

Podcasters are creating some fantastic material and I really like to listen and learn from it, and to be entertained by it. The one common problem I have found with every single podcast is the sound level. The interviews and the discussion is usually at one level, and then there is the sound/music between segments. It feels like the decibel level jumps from 20 to 120 ( I know I am exaggerating just a little). I swear my eardrums are still hurting after listening to a couple of excellent shows done by Andrew MacNeill (FoxShow - with David Stevenson) and the new OzFoxRocks by Craig Bailey and Scott Scovell in the last couple of hours. It is not just the two Fox Podcasts with this problem, it is other ones I have listened to over the last few months. Today I just found some time to jot a post down on the blog.

This is a little gripe, and definitely not something that stops me from downloading and listening to the shows. I don't want to discourage you from listening to the recordings. In fact, if you are not listening to these two podcasts you are missing out on great information.

I don't know how you capture and listen to podcasts, but I download them to my PC using FeedStation (module of FeedDemon), copy them to a SD memory card, and then plug them into my SanDisk MP3 Player. I then listen to them while I drive around to clients or when I am traveling. So when one of these podcasts raises the level of the sound I typically don't have my hand on the sound wheel, I have them on the steering wheel. So the pain I feel is instant and unavoidable.

So please podcasters, level out the sound level for everyone. It will make listening to your podcast a much better experience. My eardrums and teeth fillings thank you in advance.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The 25th Hour

I look forward to the 25th hour we get today/tomorrow when we shift back to normal time instead of daylight savings time. I see it as Mother Nature giving me back time it borrowed several months ago. Just wish we could collect interest on the time. I will be spending it watching a movie provided Therese is able to pick one up when she is out tonight (I gave her a short selection I was interested in). I always set my clocks back earlier in the evening so I mentally adjust to the shift.

One thing I learned a couple years ago is working on VFP projects during the time shift is not a good idea. Why? VFP looks at the compile time of the last build and sees the newly saved program as an older file so it does not need to be compiled. I figure it is just easier to read a book or watch a movie than worry about this for one hour every year. One of my favorite 25th hours was a few years ago at WhilFest. It was spent hanging out with the FoxGang.

Over on ProFox, several developers have been debating on the new legislation passed which lengthens the daylight savings time part of the year. Funny how a bunch of lame-brained politicians (I know, redundant) can create unintended hassles in our lives. I would be willing to bet our so called representatives had no thought or clue to the impact on computer users of older, no longer supported operating systems. Some developers are calling this a mini-Y2K. I think this is a bit over dramatic. The hassles this will cause businesses and home users will be trivial to fix, but a pain in the neck. I think the big deal with this is how it can directly impact data. I would hazard a guess that most database applications timestamp data. If one computer is running Windows 98 or even Windows 2000 and others are running Windows XP, some machines will get correctly updated and some will not. This means there potentially could be data corruption. Not a good thing.

I for one like how Windows automatically switches the clock for me. I wish all my clocks worked this way so I could save the 10 minutes it takes me to switch them all twice a year. So how many designers, developers and testers do you think Microsoft, Apple, and the Open Source teams will have on this project to change the code in Windows, OS X and Linux? Then there is all the mainframe operating systems, the Palm OS, and various other platforms. Who is going to beta test the changes? I guess I for one should be cheering this kind of change, after all, it is employing more developers and I see that as a good thing.

The real question is will they be able to get this change done in time for the spring forward of 2006? You would think this is a trivial fix, but what if the daylight savings time module is one of those modules with horrible code no one wants to touch? You know the type of code, we all have it hidden in our applications.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Adobe Acrobat 7.0.5 Update

Last week I installed all the new software and upgrades I could in preparation for my German DevCon lockdown. One of the updates I needed to do was moving Acrobat from v7.0.0 to v7.0.5. So being the good user I finally give into the annoying reminder about upgrading when I returned from Southwest Fox.

Acrobat runs fine after the upgrade (which should not be a relief, but lately I have been a little gun shy about updates on any software) . Then this week I notice Acrobat has two shortcuts on the Windows Taskbar when I have two PDFs open - weird because it never did that before. I regularly have multiple PDFs open. So what the heck was the Adobe designers and developers thinking when they added this feature during the upgrade? Probably something like - we are sure all our customers will want to see a shortcut to each and every PDF they have open - so set the default preference on automatically.

No! Noooooo! Nooooooooooo!

You set the preference so the user has the same experience and you make this preference discoverable so the user can turn it on. This is a big deal. I spent quite a bit of time looking through the zillion pages of preference settings inside Acrobat and did not see it. Finally I wizened up and did a search on the Help file and low and behold, there it is on the General preferences. At least it was easy to find in the Help and the tech writers get kudos for doing a good job.

Unchecked the preference and once again all is good in Whoville. But what an aggravation. So if you are experiencing this frustration in Acrobat, on the menu, Edit | Preferences to bring up the Preferences dialog. In the Categories listbox, select General. The last checkbox in the Miscellaneous settings will toggle your preference.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Epson - you are on your last strike...

I really hate hardware. Yes, I have said this a million times, and I mean it. I hate recommending it, I hate buying it, I hate shopping for it, and I hate the fact that I need it to so the thing I love doing every day, which is creating software. OK, a million and four times.

My second Epson color printer has died. The first one I owned was a C80 which I purchased based on the great output and experience Steve Sawyer had with his Epson. The big draw was the ink used, the brightness of the color, and the fact that there were separate cartridges for the colors (three different cartridges) and the one black. No more wasting the colors just because one ran out. The first printer lasted just over a year and probably weeks past the warranty it died. To better this experience the printer died just after I bought new cartridges. You know, the same cartridges that cost more than the stoooopid printer!

So I replaced it with the Epson Stylus C84. This printer lasted a little longer, but it too died a premature death (at least premature in my opinion). No kidding, I have a set of fresh cartridges for this as well. Joy.

So I was talking to Steve Bodnar last week and he was telling me how Steve Sawyer just purchased a new Epson Stylus Photo R200 for US$49. So Steve bought his own R200 based on Steve's recommendation (yes it was absolutely fun having two Steves and business partners {g}). Heck this is cheaper than cartridges. So I go shopping and cannot find the same deal my friends got. Bummer.

So shopping at the local computer store I see Epson has a deal for the Stylus Photo R300 for US$99. It has six different cartridges (naturally none compatible with the set rotting on the shelf in the office) and prints on CDs and DVDs. It also has a card reader slot so I can print pictures direct from the memory card. This is only twenty bucks more than I paid for the old printer and seems to have a bunch of features I never had before.

So what the heck is the deal with "disposable printers"? I hate it. At least the US$300 HP InkJet printer I purchased years ago lasted several years. Maybe this is better though as I get the same life out of my US$300 bucks and get newer and better features each time.

However, I can say one thing to Epson - this is your last shot. Swing and miss and you are out of here. This printer better survive multiple years and better not die just after I purchase a new set of cartridges. I am tired of filling up landfills with inexpensive hardware that breaks. I would rather spend a couple more dollars and have something last. It will save me time and aggravation dealing with procuring new hardware. Didn't I mention how much I hate doing this?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Binary Clock

OK, this is more of a recreational post than anything else, but with a geek twist.

This morning I took a break and was reading a post on the EDS' Next Big Thing Blog concerning unintending use of technology and followed a link to the ThinkGeek site. I have not been to the ThinkGeek site in a while so in typical geek fashion I followed a couple of links and landed on the LED Binary Clock page. Another fun idea only geeks will be able to understand.

The only thing I could think of was how much trouble I would be in if I purchased this cool gadget. A clock my wife will not be able to read. Therese already hates it when I give her boolean answers to her boolean questions, so how much trouble would I be in if I start telling her what time it is in binary? Ahhh, the joys of living with a geek. Maybe we should of added the following syntax to our marriage vows: "for geekier days and not so geekier days..." (true - in case you are wondering).

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Some Things I learned at Southwest Fox 2005

Finally home after some much needed rest and relaxation (and a little bit of business) in Sedona and the Grand Canyon after the Southwest Fox 2005 conference. I echo the feelings in Andy Kramek's blog post, it was the best!

In Barbara Peisch's session on Using the XFRX Preview Container I learned you can set the printer settings with SYS(1037,2) and reset them SYS(1037,3) as long as you have a dummy FRX hanging around, way cool. This was the most valuable session I sat in all day Saturday (and that says a lot based on the sessions I attended). Looking forward to the session notes to absorb all the material.

Doug Hennig's session on Cool Uses of a ReportListener was cut short because of an itinerary problem with Doug's travel agent, but in 20 minutes Doug showed some super cool tricks with hyperlinking reports and simulation of drilldown. I know Doug wrote about this in FoxTalk months ago, but seeing it in action and listening to him explain how it all works was a lot simpler than just reading about the techniques.

Craig Boyd's session on VFP Cryptography 101 was most impressive. It will take a bit to digest all the information Craig threw out during the session. The only problem I had with the session is it should have been two sessions. This way Craig could have presented all the material he packaged up and I could have taken more time to understand it the first time around.

Rick Borup's session Integrating RSS with VFP Applications pinpointed a number of things I did not know about RSS layout, but the key take-away was the Author attribute requires an email address to be fully compliant with the RSS specifications and a valid feed.

Andy Kramek did an admirable job presenting Drew's Big VFP 9 Things Come in Small Packages. My hat is off to both him and Marcia Akins for attempting to fill in for Drew and present his sessions. I cannot think of a much tougher task taken for the entire weekend. I know both felt they could only try, but I can only think Drew was proud from afar.

Tamar's session on Tips and Tricks I Learned From Drew Speedie was a great session and a great tribute. I believe I was not the only one watching who was remembering some of these tips and possibly relearning a couple. Thanks to Russ Swall and Visionpace for food and beverages after the session. Well done.

I also learned that one developer found the White Light Computing Developer Tools more interesting than attending sessions by the likes of Steve Black, Andy Kramek, Marcia Akins, Rick Borup and Calvin Hsia! Talk about a power pack lineup to have your vendor session slotted. Thanks Bill for showing up - hope you find both tools useful in your development. I enjoyed our discussion.

Naturally, I learned something in each of the sessions I presented. Thanks to all the attendees who were willing to share their experiences, thoughts, and ideas in my sessions. The sessions were better because of your participation and were easy to give because I brought the Staples Easy Button (you had to be there {g}).

There was not a bad session in the lot during the three days of the conference and I had a heck of a time picking which sessions I was going to be able to attend in person. No problem, I will read each of the white papers as time allows. In case you did not know this: the white papers are the second most valuable take-away from the conference, only second to networking opportunity in between sessions and afterhours.

I met a few new friends this weekend (thanks for the kind words in your blog Kevin), caught up with the FoxGang, and discussed some new opportunities to help out the Fox Community with several developers. Check out SednaX if you have not had a chance. This should be super place for extending VFP.

If you were not in attendance this year and are finding yourself a little jealous reading all the blog posts and UT Coverage by Craig Boyd (my eyes still have tears from the laughter - ''passenger seat looked like one of those memory foam beds..."), don't fret. Bob Kocher is already hard at work planning next year's Southwest Fox and I am already looking forward to this conference.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Heading to Southwest Fox

I am finishing up some work at a client today, then heading to the airport to fly to Arizona very early tomorrow morning. If you are spending the weekend in the valley of the sun and fox, be sure to stop by the White Light Computing booth and say hello. We have a gift waiting for attendees, first come, first served. We will also be holding a drawing for copies of HackCX Professional and ViewEditor Professional so bring your business cards to enter. Discounts will be offered to attendees as well, so if you don't win one of the licenses given away you will be able to buy them for less through November 15th.

Bill Gates Visiting Colleges

My son is currently at the University of Michigan working toward a B.S. in Computer Science. He told me last weekend that Bill Gates is visiting college campuses to talk to students and faculty about technology and how vital computer science is today and will be in the future. So I naturally encouraged him to attend. Unfortunately my son is in class during the session. He told me how several of his fellow Computer Science students could not attend because they are in their computer classes. How shortsighted is that? If I were a professor and Bill Gates was stopping by my school, the first thing I would do is pull strings, get the tickets, and then make it mandatory for all the students to be in the session. Boneheads.

On the positive side: it is good to see Bill Gates and Microsoft in general doing the smart thing by opening a dialog and trying to understand why fewer and fewer people are opting to pursue a career in technology. I hope this is just not a couple of people listening, but that there will be some positive action items generated. We will see.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Geeking on a Saturday

I had a ton of fun today being a geek.

My day started with a trip across Michigan to rehearse my Data Explorer session at the Grand Rapids Area Fox User Group. The drive is actually a nice three hour ride. I used my laptop the entire trip for the first time as a device to enhance the travel experience in a geeky way. Nice to know my battery lasts exactly long enough to cross the state of Michigan, but not much longer.

I purchased Microsoft Streets and Trips 2005 while I was in Redmond for the MVP Summit (thanks to Rick Bean for pointing this out on our visit to the Microsoft company store). The software comes with a GPS unit. I loaded the driver last week on the way home from the MVP Summit so I was not breaking my new software before a conference policy. I plugged this in to see how it operates with Microsoft MapPoint without loading the Streets and Trips package. Way cool! The real time feedback is impressive and the accuracy of the maps is amazing. I have seen other more expensive GPS technology in hand held units and dashboard units show the position just off the road. Heck, this package is only US$80 and includes mapping software and the GPS hardware device (plugs into a USB port). The bad news is I purchased the 2005 version and I see the 2006 version was just released. The new version of Streets and Trips has voice and text prompted directions on Windows XP. This feature would have helped today because I was traveling alone. Steve Bodnar told me (and I have since read more) that the Streets package has more GPS features built in than the more expensive MapPoint software. Hopefully this is just a leap frogging problem and the next version of MapPoint will get the cooler GPS features so I don't have to suck up hard drive space with both tools.

Even more geekness: while I was traveling I caught up on 5 different FoxShows I had downloaded, but have not had time to listen. Andrew: love the format and you are getting some excellent interviews. Each of the interviews provided me a little humor, insight and information. They all got me more geeked for the Southwest Fox conference next week and made the trip go a little faster which is always a good thing.

The trees are just starting to turn color in southern Michigan so the scenic part of the drive was very nice. It is almost a shame I will probably miss the peak season because Therese and I are heading the Arizona next week. Hopefully the weather will hold and we will get a beautiful view and the ultimate color tour out the airplane window on our return flight.

It was good visiting with friends on the west side of Michigan and appreciate the time each gave to come listen to a presentation I have only presented once before. It went better than expected because I have not had time to really practice the sessions before I have presented them to the two groups. As Sharon noted at the meeting today, there is always the plane ride out to Arizona. I am not sure the passengers outside of the Fox developers traveling on our early flight next Thursday really will want to listen {g}.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Why policies are made

I have a business policy to never load new software on my development machine right before a conference where I am presenting. The policy was created years ago when I did this and it triggered a panic attack during a rehearsal days before I was headed to GLGDW in Milwaukee. Demonstrations I had run a dozen times all of a sudden stopped working. Burned once and hopefully never to happen again... Well until yesterday.

Yesterday my client set me up for access to their Citrix box so I can do remote support. I have loaded the Citrix client on other computers without incident so I never gave it a thought when we went to set this up. The Citrix client installed just fine. Life is good.

Then I started VFP 9 (with the SP1 beta installed) which I have been using for more than a week now. The VFP window is displayed, the Stonefield Database Toolkit splash screen is display, a couple more of my startup program items are processed and then the Windows Installer kicks in and asks me for the VFP 9 install CD. What the heck?

I don't have the CD with me (a freak of nature by itself) so I cancel the install and quit VFP 9. I start up VFP 9 without the SP applied and it does the same thing. Argh! What the heck did Citrix install that could possibly mess up the VFP files? The frustrating thing about this is I probably will never know, but I suspect it is one of the ActiveX controls. I supplied the Windows Installer with the CD when I returned back to my office and all is well again. All I could think of is how bad my sessions would go this Saturday at the Grand Rapids Area Fox User Group and next week in Tempe at the Southwest Fox conference. Life is too short to have to worry about this kind of stuff happening to my machine.

So back to the business policy. I am going to add language like "never, ever" (in bold) to the "do not load any software two weeks before a conference" policy, and make this an offence punishable by termination. How hard is it to fire yourself?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The real reason Craig Boyd is an MVP

I have been reading several blog posts sending crongratulations to Craig Boyd on becoming a Microsoft MVP (definitely well deserved). It seems obvious to most of us how Craig became an MVP since he has been creating examples and posting blog entries as if there were three or four of him cloned and working hard in his office in Minnesota.

That is not the full story. Head over to Tek-Tips and read any of the thousands of posts he has made over the years. His posts are some of the best forum post reading you can find. This is where I first met Craig and where I was initially impressed by his willingness to share his knowledge with the Fox Community.

Monday, October 03, 2005

MenuDesigner - Beta?

Today in his blog, Andrew MacNeill asks when the MenuDesigner Professional beta will be starting. The answer is simple, when it is ready and not a day sooner. I worked on it a bit at the MVP Summit and a little this afternoon when I needed a break from all the catching up I have to do after being out of the office for the last week. There is a fair amount of work to do on it, but I am definitely in the stretch run now.

The problem solved at the MVP Summit was something very simple once you have 20/20 hindsight. When I first sat down and designed the MenuDesigner I listed the features I felt were necessary to make the product sell. I then prioritized them based on difficulty and started working on the list with the most difficult first. The reason I took this approach is fairly obvious. If I hit a technical showstopper, I would have invested less time before scrapping the product. One of the last features on the list is adding a record. At first glance this may sound easy. I mean, how hard can it be to APPEND BLANK to the MNX file, which is nothing more than a DBF? It is not hard, except for the act that GenMenu depends on the sequence of records in the MNX. To retain full compatibility with VFP and the MNX structure, I have to maintain this record sequence. To accomplish this I was depending on the old FoxPro INSERT record command. Not the SQL Insert, the old Xbase INSERT, which inserts a record physically between two other records. When I first tested this out it failed miserably.

So at dinner at the summit someone (I think it was Ken Levy) asked me about the MenuDesigner and when it was going to ship. I brought up the latest technical hurdle and David Stevenson mentions he is tech editing an article for FoxTalk which uses this command. This leads to discussion and then Doug Hennig has me search the new VFP 9 ReportBuilder project for the command. Sure enough it is in the code so it must be working. More discussion. I tried a couple of things and then we came across the one little piece of information missing from my original scenario: turning off buffering. You see, one of the base features of the MenuDesigner and the native VFP Menu Designer is the option of not saving your changes. Simple to implement with buffering. So now I have to implement my own buffering with a cursor separate from the MNX cursor I was using up to this point. This is not a super big deal. I have to change some code in the menu opening method and some more in the saving menu method and I should be good to move on to the actual code to add an item to the menu.

Back to this 20/20 hindsight, it makes perfect sense that VFP would need exclusive use to physically insert a record. I had that part. It also makes perfect sense that VFP would not allow buffering on the table to physically insert a record. I just wish I would have thought about this more, or the MVP Summit would have been months ago. {g}

So now you know.... the rest of the story.